CHARLESTOWN, R.I. - Once a part of Westerly, this little coastal town bustles in summer. But there’s lots to like in Charlestown off-season, especially for outdoors lovers, with many places to watch birds, to fish and to hike - including the many tourist-free beaches. Gift seekers and the hungry will have their pick of shops and restaurants, and there is no shortage of places to stay.
This time of year lodging bargains abound. Close to hiking hot spots such as Burlingame State Park is the Windswept Inn (10 Prosser Trail, 401-364-3421, www.thewindsweptinn.com, rates from $75), a renovated 19-room property. Like walking in the sand? Not far from Charlestown Beach is the Surfside Motel (334 Narrow Lane, 401-364-1010, www.thesurfsidemotel.com, rates from $60), built in 1938 and renovated in 2008 into a 15-room motel. Another budget-conscious choice is the Krystal Penguin Inn (5399 Post Road, 401-364-0062, www.krystalinn.com, rates from $49). Just over the town line in Westerly is the historic 24-room Shelter Harbor Inn (10 Wagner Road, Westerly, 401-322-8883, www.shelterharborinn.com, rates from $96), which early in the last century was part of what was known as the “Musicolony,’’ a place where musicians and their families relaxed between performing seasons in Newport and New York.
Restaurants frequented by residents are always a good bet. One favorite is the Gentleman Farmer (4349 South County Trail, 401-364-6202, www.facebook.com/pages/The-Gentleman-Farmer/186812114692155, entrees from $6.95), a small place serving made-to-order meals and making three types of chowder, including a very tasty version of Rhode Island’s traditional clear-broth rendition. Another is the Hungry Haven (5000 South County Trail, 401-364-3609, dinner from $8.95), which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and where in the morning you can get eggs Benedict with lobster for $10. Two places to check out before they close for the season are the historic 1730 Wilcox Tavern (5153 Old Post Road, 401-322-1829, www.wilcoxtavern.com, entrees from $19, closed New Year’s Day through Easter), which features its signature seafood Wilcox, cavatappi pasta tossed with lobster, scallops, crab, shrimp, broccoli, and a Parmesan cream sauce; and an all-you-can-eat paradise, the Nordic Lodge (178 East Pasquiset Trail, 401-783-4515, www.nordiclodge.com, closed Dec. 11-April 26), where $82 per person gets you all the lobster you can devour, as well as unlimited black angus prime rib, filet mignon, shrimp cocktail, crab, ribs, pasta, dessert, nonalcoholic beverages, and more.
For bird watchers and others who love the great outdoors, Charlestown is a gem. Catch glimpses of deer, fox, and wintering bald eagles at Burlingame State Park (Sanctuary Road, 401-322-8910, www.riparks.com/burlingastatepark.htm), 3,100 acres of rocky woodland surrounding freshwater bass-fishing favorite Watchaug Pond. Another hot angling spot is saltwater Quonochontaug Pond at the end of West Beach Road, which is popular with birders, too, and where such species as the Mongolian plover and curlew sandpiper have been spotted in recent years. Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary (180 Sanctuary Road, 401-949-5454, www.asri.org/refuges) is a 29-acre Audubon Society parcel abutting Burlingame, another haven for bird-watchers and hikers. The 868-acre Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge (50 Bend Road, 401-364-9124, www.fws.gov/ninigret), home to more than 70 species of nesting birds, is a former US Navy auxiliary field where overgrown airstrips are incorporated in the park’s interpretive “trails through time’’ routes. Pick up gifts at Mills Creek (4436 Old Post Road, 401-364-9399, www.millscreek.etsy.com), a boutique selling goods made by regional crafters, including hand-woven clothing, handbags made of recycled materials, pottery, and toys. High-end art can be found at Charlestown Gallery (5000 South County Trail, 401-364-0120, www.charlestowngalleryri.com), showcasing contemporary paintings, photography, sculpture, and furniture. Jonesing for funky and Bohemian? Try the Fantastic Umbrella Factory (4820 Old Post Road, 401-364-6616, www.facebook.com/pages/Fantastic-Umbrella-Factory-Gardens/143115595714523), a collection of stores in a 19th-century farm setting, where visitors can feed ducks, emus, and goats on the grounds. One popular shop here is the General Store, where incense burns, Hendrix and Lennon posters adorn the walls, and you can go retro with peace stickers, lava lamps, and bongs.
Charlestown nights are hotter when the weather is, too, but there is still a good bit to do. For music, give a listen at the Breachway Grill (1 Charlestown Beach Road, 401-213-6615, www.breachwaygrill.com) where along with warming cold-weather food like lobster mac and cheese and braised short ribs, you get live music of the acoustic variety Thursday through Saturday nights. For sing-it-yourselfers, do up karaoke Friday nights at the Cove (3963 Old Post Road, 401-364-9222, www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cove/113805281975188), and nosh on burgers, seafood, steaks, pizza, and pasta between songs. For more sedate night life, star gaze at Frosty Drew Nature Center & Observatory (62 Park Lane, 401-783-7121, www.frostydrew.org, free admission, suggested $1 donation), where every Friday after dusk the cozy little observatory hosts viewings through its 16-inch Meade LX200 Schmidt Cassegrain telescope that peers into a night sky said to be the darkest between Boston and New York.